Friday, November 10, 2017


Robert Emenegger, Allan Sandler

A few aliens in shining silver suits… (or they are the silver suits?), abduct a bunch of middle-aged people after carefully classifying them by skin color (the aliens must be racists…). These people wake up in a run-down building and find themselves not only having to contend with various tests performed by the aliens, but also with each other. The aliens are difficult to communicate with, and the people are jerks who can't get along. Things look very dim indeed for our heroes.

Much like The Killings at Outpost Zeta (1980) and Warp Speed (1981), from the same directors, Laboratory is a mix of low-cost visuals, questionable acting, and some chunky analog synthesizer sounds. Playing up the fascination with alien abductions, Laboratory forgoes most of the tropes associated with these kinds of stories and creates its own aesthetic of sorts. Shining discs from space are replaced with glowing orange blobs, lanky grey aliens are forsworn instead for shiny diamond encrusted disco monsters, the strange clinical interior of a spacecraft is replaced with an abandoned dorm, and anal probing makes way for stomach needles.

The story of Laboratory is extremely thin; people are abducted and run through weird tests by aliens. That is about it. There are not any big twists. The alien’s motivations are called into question, and there seems to be a moment when they turn from something sinister towards something more like beneficent space-brothers who are looking out for us. This is not really capitalized on, and for all the revelations that these creatures might not be as evil as advertised; they are still callous and more than a little cruel.

"Oh my gosh, UFO: Kidnapped is on!"
This kind of story can survive through strong characters and performances.  Sadly, there isn’t much of either to be found. The acting ranges from serviceable to irritating, while the characters themselves hover around annoying with occasional forays into, ‘Please get killed soon.’ Everyone seems relentlessly antagonistic. Better writing would show this as happening because of a confined space and severe stress, but it never comes across this way. All evidence points to some aliens just wanting to put a bunch of assholes in a room together and watch them explode.

One of my favorite aspects of these Emenegger and Sandler films is the analog synth soundtrack. Laboratory doesn’t seem to have quite as much music as some of their other films, but there are still some very eerie atonal sounds that enhance the alien and the strange situation our characters find themselves dealing with.

"Welcome, Steve, to the future... THE DISCO FUTURE."
If you are into alien abduction stories, this one is worth viewing for how atypical it can be. If you like other Emenegger and Sandler movies, this one lacks some of the finer points of their low budget, early 1980s aesthetic, but there are some interesting moments. If you are fan of annoying people acting out and being weirdly cruel to other annoying people, this just might be the perfect movie for you.

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